The first management theory, Frederick Taylor’s scientific management theory, dates back to 1911. From there, many others were born, including Max Weber’s bureaucratic theory and Mary Parker Follett’s theory of organizational management. The countless theories ultimately spawned the human relations movement. It represents a crucial shift in management that encouraged a more personal type of management. Here are the basics of the movement and how it affected today’s style of management.
The human relations movement was born from the Hawthorne studies, which Elton Mayo and Fritz Roethlisberger conducted from 1924 to 1932. Originally, the studies focused on how physical conditions, like lighting, affected workers’ productivity, but the studies found that one of the biggest factors influencing employees’ performance was whether they were being observed by others.
In other words, relationships between workers and management affect employee efficiency. If workers are being analyzed by their boss, they will be more motivated to do well – a phenomenon known as the Hawthorne effect.
Being part of a group and having a specific responsibility in that group also increased employees’ motivation. Workers want to feel that their personal goals and development goals align with their team’s overall goals and that their work is valuable.
Some, if not most, employee management styles are predicated on the tenets of the human relations movement. All employee management styles require the use of human resources (HR), not to mention a department devoted to HR. This distinction raises the question: How do human relations and human resources differ?
Human relations encompass all interactions between employees and your company. That means not just how your employees interact with you (the business owner), but your work environment, all your other employees, your clients and anyone else they come into contact with in the course of their work. Human relations aims to ensure that your employees are as happy and productive – not the latter at the expense of the former – as possible.
Human resources somewhat disregards interpersonal interactions and treats your employees primarily as resources. An HR manager or outsourced HR firm may view your team as largely another cog in your machine while occasionally thinking about their wants and needs. This distinction stems in part from the fact that your HR team may be responsible for minimizing your risk, a task sometimes at odds with employee happiness.
Human relations concerns employee happiness, whereas human resources centers around your business.
Management professor Douglas McGregor later created Theory X and Theory Y, two opposing perceptions of employee motivation. Here are the basics of the two theories, according to McGregor’s 1960 book The Human Side of Enterprise:
Theory Y shared similarities with the human relations movement, noting that workers can be trusted and are naturally motivated and efficient. However, American psychologist Abraham Maslow had developed a theory of hierarchical needs, which McGregor referred to in his book, to indicate employee incentives to perform well. From lowest to highest in the hierarchy, those are physiological needs, safety needs, social needs, ego needs and self-fulfillment needs.
The two theories were important additions to management studies, and the human relations movement progressed by aligning individual needs with organizational needs.
The human relations movement was a crucial event in management history and a major contribution to today’s leadership style. The behavioral sciences helped managers and theorists understand how to increase productivity by ditching the primary focus on organizations over their workers. Contemporary theories, like the contingency theory and the systems theory, focus more on the importance and effect of every individual in a company and how they can achieve their own goals while benefiting their organization.
Some aspects of human relations management can be applied to the modern workplace. There are a few positive actions businesses can take to improve employee performance.
Just as employees look to management for guidance and assistance, managers must also strive for self-improvement. To do this, they can learn more about human relations by taking online courses or participating in in-person seminars.
Learning about new human relations tools and resources is also important, which will play a key role in rewarding employees who excel.